The Grid Isn’t Ready for the Renewable Revolution

from Wired

YOU CAN ALMOST hear the electrical grid creaking and groaning under the weight of the future, as two forces converge to push it—often literally—to its breaking point. 

One force is climate change, which can exacerbate disasters that take down parts of the grid, as Hurricane Ida did this summer, knocking New Orleans offline just as a heat wave settled in. Or extreme weather can suddenly spike the demand for energy just when the grid is least able to provide it, like during last winter’s Texas freeze and subsequent power system failure.

The other force, ironically enough, is the massive deployment of renewable power—the best way to fight climate change and avoid these kinds of disasters. But this will demand a fundamental rethinking of how the grid operates. Gas and coal power plants generate continuous power by burning fuel, and how much they burn can be modulated based on the demand for electricity. But the generation of solar and wind energy fluctuates. The sun doesn’t shine at night, and turbines don’t turn without wind. 

More here.

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4 Comments

  1. I found this article to have many relevant topic in terms of life today. It is a goal of mine to one day own a home with its own solar and wind power source. Especially when combatting climate change, renewable solutions appear to make the most sense. This comes with so many major challenges though. Different issues were highlighted through out this article such as expense, access, and location. It’s logical that not every region in the US has access to sun, water, or wind 24/7- 365 days out of the year. One subject that was touched on that I feel is one of the more crucial aspects to focus on in the switch to renewable energy is the country’s grid as a whole. As stated, America is split into 3 different grids. One in the east, one in the west, and one in Texas. I wasn’t aware that Texas had a separate grid until its climate crisis this last winter. Now that it is clear that no region in left untouched by the changing climate, it would be smart to connect every grid together. Renewable energy isn’t cheap and it takes time and resources to work properly. With the right investments though, the reward could be much greater than the initial cost. As discussed in the article, aligning the grids together would allow for different regions to use power at different times and in different variations. With the climate shifting to more extremes every year, no precaution is too unworthy. In fact, if the country was able to put safeguards in place on a larger scale, the aftermath of disasters like hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, and fires would be less expensive to rebuild every time. Through out this article I saw many parallels with different plans to increase renewable energy and the issues they present in the context of the Green New Deal. This plan introduced to congress in 2012, focuses on combatting climate change in addition to economic inequality. In investing in national sustainable solutions, lower income communities would have greater access to strong and reliable power. A commodity that at this point, seems almost a necessary service to all US citizens.

  2. The post above talks about how power grids in the United States will soon be replaced by wind and solar power. One reason is because of climate change, and the other is because of a high demand in renewable energy. I believe the world will ultimately transition to this new type of power. This reminds me of electric cars.
    Like switching to renewable energy, I believe people will also switch from gas cars to electric cars. The article https://theconversation.com/the-climate-emergency-warrants-a-strong-mandate-on-zero-emission-vehicles-from-the-federal-government-168922 talks about how people will eventually make the switch. EV’s are becoming increasingly affordable and feasible to purchase. To get yourself a tesla, you don’t even have to go to a dealership, it’s all done online. They are trying to facilitate the process of making the switch. Tesla is even planning to release a 25,000$ EV in 2023. https://electrek.co/2021/09/02/tesla-aims-to-release-25000-electric-car-in-2023-likely-will-not-have-a-steering-wheel/.
    Climate change can not be ignored for much longer. The previous post I commented on was about how people were going to make sea walls to prevent floods due to the water rising. I wrote how this is only a temporary solution. As already stated, building the sea walls will only redirect the water to hit another community.
    I like how now, people are going green and attacking the problem from the source, our pollution. The fuel we use releases pollution like no other. https://www.cnn.com/2021/02/09/world/climate-fossil-fuels-pollution-intl-scn/index.html talks about what our fuel does in regards to climate change. It states, “Burning fossil fuels such as coal and oil produces greenhouse gases that trap solar radiation in the atmosphere and cause climate change.”
    The problem with “going green” is that the technology may not be ready to handle such a big switch so quickly. As stated in the post, we don’t know if solar power and wind can provide the energy for 100% of people in the world. The only place that has been able to do that is iceland. https://worldsmartcities.org/5-places-running-on-100-renewable-energy/#:~:text=Iceland%20is%20a%20country%20running,heating%20coming%20from%20this%20source. This states, “Iceland is a country running on 100% renewable energy. It gets 75% of the electricity from hydropower, and 25% from geothermal.” So it is possible, but it’s important to remember that every country is different. Countries have a different population, and different weather geographically. The switch to going green will have to be made and the technology will have to keep up with new times.

  3. The article about our electric grid is pointing out an important and urgent issue that we are facing. The electric grid that so many people rely on is outdated and would not be able to handle future growth and energy demand without some changes first. The lack of flexibility in the grid is shown through its incapability of handling many of the disasters that people have been faced with. Hurricane Ida was one disaster that showed the complexity of the grid and how it can be easily disrupted. The hurricane destroyed necessary parts of the grid, such as transmission lines and power stations. It took a while for crews to search through everything that was wrong so that they could rebuild the system. This is one of the problems that should be improved and modernized. A new type of grid would be designed with measures that could avoid these problems, such as alternative sources of energy that can be used during disruptions like hurricanes. This would not only increase the reliability of the grid, but it is also necessary to keep things such as hospitals running during these emergencies.
    Adding these renewable resources in addition to what is already powering our grid isn’t such a simple and easy solution. There needs to be a comprehensive plan on grid modernization if we want to move forwards with improving not just the reliability of our grids, but also the security and flexibility of our grids. The modernization of the grid will have many aspects, including infrastructure upgrades, regulatory changes, and the introduction of new technologies and computer systems. The increasing demands for electricity have strained our existing resources, and as the article shows, renewable resources are not as flexible as fossil fuels. This is because power companies can’t simply increase the amount of renewable energy that they are producing in the same ways that they could increase the amount of fossil fuels that they are burning. This leaves them in a tough position at times when energy demands are spiking, so they need to do whatever they can to prevent those spikes, this is where other technologies can help out.
    Smart homes and smart appliances will be able to communicate with the internet, so one of the elements of a modernized and smart power grid will be the smart devices that draw power from it. Smart thermostats will be able to better spread out the electricity demand by communicating with each other, but there are some drawbacks to this system. Some people who are using this technology might not want to leave their decisions up to their thermostats, they might instead override the computer in order to turn on their air or heat right away. This is why incentive programs, such as Google’s Nest Renew will be an important part of this. It will give users an incentive to leave their thermostat decisions up to the computer. This will help lower the overall strain on the grid and it is something that we will likely see more of in the future.

  4. The percentage of national energy that was renewable in the year 2020 was around twenty percent. This is around three percent more than our amount in 2018. Certain trends predict that this upcoming year will see the biggest change in percentage that we have seen in a while. Switching to renewable energy is one of the hottest topics out there worldwide. Nations now realize that change has to be quick, efficient, and a communitive thing. All countries must try to reduce their carbon footprints if we hope to reduce the rate and severity of climate change. In 2021, lea.org reports that thirty percent of the world’s population was generated from renewable sources. This is reported as an all time high. As seen here, the world is now trying to fix the problem together. Obviously, some nations are doing a better job at reducing than others, but in order to obtain thirty percent, the whole world has to be taking the problem serious. With all this said, I doubt that power companies are excited for this change. It is easy to say that if companies didn’t have their hands tied behind their back, few would actually make the change from fossil fuels to renewable energy. Fossil fuel energy is simple to produce, been the norm for decades, and is a lot cheaper when compared to some types of renewable energies. An example of this is how windmills could cost millions of dollars to just build, let alone to get up and running. When taking this into consideration, the changes and sacrifices that these companies are doing to try to do the right thing cannot go unappreciated. Renewable energy is also situational. What I mean by that is that it depends on things that is out of our control. People naturally dislike when things are out of their control, especially companies investing hundreds of millions of dollars into something. Solar energy is 100% dependent on sun light as wind power is 100% dependent on the wind. If anything were to happen to cause a drought in either one of these energy sources (streak of cloudy days, lack of strong wind), the setback could be catastrophic.

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